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Google unveils plans to sell e-books

Look out Amazon, Google’s coming. That was the message at BookExpo America over the weekend. According to an article by Motoko Rich in yesterday’s New York Times, representatives from Google were in discussions with booksellers at the annual trade show about a new platform that would allow users to purchase digital copies of new books directly from Google. The search engine already allows users to browse portions of new books, and includes links to booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon, where traditional print copies or e-books can be purchased. The new proposal would eliminate the middleman and allow Google to sell directly to consumers.

It would also allow booksellers to set the prices for their titles, which has been a bone of contention between booksellers and Amazon. From the Times:

Google’s move is likely to be welcomed by publishers who have expressed concerns about Amazon‘s aggressive pricing strategy for e-books. Amazon offers Kindle editions of most new best sellers for $9.99, far less than the typical $26 at which publishers sell new hardcovers. In early discussions, Google has said it will allow publishers to set consumer prices.

Something else that may have Amazon trembling in its corporate boots is the fact that Google’s proposed program would allow users to access digital copies of books from any device with Web access, such as cell phones. Amazon’s e-books are only compatible with the company’s own Kindle reader.

The proposed new e-book project is separate from the ongoing Google Book Search settlement, which involves payments to rightsholders whose books have been digitized by Google without permission.

Though competition is a healthy thing, Quillblog thinks that the notion of allowing publishers to charge the same price for e-books that they charge for traditional hard copies won’t gain much traction. No one is going to want to fork over $30 for a digital copy of a book, especially when websites (such as, ahem, Google) are already making so much content available online for free.